French Movies – Best French Films

These French movies have changed the world. From classic French films to French New Wave, to contemporary French cinema - these are some of the best French language films.

French Movies - The Rules of the Game - La Règle du Jeu

Best French Films of the 1930’s

The two great French film directors who gave an idea of what to expect from France were Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo. La Règle du jeu (1939, The Rules of the Game) filmed by Jean Renoir is considered not only one of the best French language films, but also one of the best movies ever created.

L’Atalante (1934) is the only full-feature movie by Jean Vigo, who died the same year it was released. With this movie he left a legacy that would inspire the French New Wave movie movement and many movie directors around the world.

Best French Films of the 1940’s

Every country has a beloved epic movie that is treasured by generations. For the French, it is Les Enfants du Paradis (1945, Children of Paradise) by Marcel Carné. The classic French movie was filmed during German occupation, on limited means and under difficult conditions.

In 1995, in celebration of 100 years of the movies, French critics and movie professionals voted it the best French film ever.

French Movies - Children of Paradise - Les Enfants du Paradis

French Movies - French New Wave - La Nouvelle Vague

French New Wave - Nouvelle Vague

French New Wave was a movement that originated in late 1950’s with a group of movie critics. They didn’t like the French language films they saw, so they decided to make their own. The French New Wave influenced everybody who is anybody in the world of film making.

À bout de souffle (1960, Breathless) by Jean-Luc Godard and Jules et Jim (1962, Jules and Jim) by François Truffaut were some of the most influential French New Wave movies that constantly show up on best French films lists.

French Film Directors - Alain Resnais

Alain Resnais is one of the most revered French film directors. Although frequently associated with the French New Wave, he developed his own style. His first feature film, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), is one of the most important French language films.

His second feature film, L'Année dernière à Marienbad (1961, Last Year at Marienbad), a visual masterpiece, also attracted a lot of attention. The movie reviews were good and bad. But to this day, it is a one-of-a-kind film.

French Movies - Hiroshima mon amour

French Movies - A Man and a Woman - Un Homme et une femme

French Film Directors - Claude Lelouche

Claude Lelouche wasn't off to a good start. His first movie, released in 1960 was panned by critics. The French New Wave completely denounced him: “Claude Lelouch, remember that name, you will never hear it again.” Boy, did he prove them wrong!

Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman), released in 1966, won the Cannes Film Festival Palme D’Or, the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

Belle de Jour - Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel, a Spanish movie director, was one of the most influential film makers ever. He was not afraid of experimenting. As a result, his movies were always very distinctively his.

Belle de Jour (1967), his French drama movie, is the story of a young beautiful upper-middle class woman who is sexually unsatisfied. She becomes a day-time prostitute, while her husband is at work. This is the movie Catherine Deneuve, one of the top French movie stars, is most famous for.

French Movies - Belle de Jour

French Movies - Les Diaboliques

French Movies – Horror and Thriller

When we think “horror movies”, our mind doesn’t usually go to France. However, the French film industry produced some of the well-known cult horror movies. Les Diaboliques (1955, Diabolique) by Henri-Georges Clouzot was greatly admired by Alfred Hitchcock and proved to be a great influence on one of his best horror movies – Psycho (1960).

Les yeux sans visage (1960, Eyes Without a Face) was a shocker to European audiences for its disturbing content. It was suggested that the movie was an inspiration for the popular American slasher film Halloween (1978).

The French sing!

When Hollywood was busy making pompous musical movies, French film industry created something quite different - Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). This French movie is a drama with not a line of spoken dialogue – every phrase is sung. It is a modern opera.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg received Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award. The movie brought international fame to Catherine Deneuve. Almost 40 years later she starred in another acclaimed musical French movie – 8 Femmes (2002, 8 Women).

French Movies - The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

French Movies - Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot - BB

Talking about French cinema, we must mention French romantic comedy films and Brigitte Bardot, one of the legendary French movie stars. Over time she proved herself as a dramatic actress in films like Le Mépris (1963, Contempt) by Jean-Luc Goddard and Viva Maria! (1965) by Louis Malle. However, she was best known for light-hearted romantic comedies.

Une Parisienne (1957), a classic French romantic comedy movie, is quintessentially French and quintessentially Bardot.

French Films of 1970’s and 1980’s

The 1970’s and 1980’s were marked by French movie stars Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Gérard Depardieu.

Stavisky (1974) with Jean-Paul Belmondo by Alain Resnais.

Le Cercle rouge (1970) with Alain Delon by Jean-Pierre Melville.

French Movies - Le Cercle rouge

French Movies - Girl on the Bridge - La Fille sur le pont

French Films of 1990’s

Starting from late 1980’s, mainstream French movies resemble Hollywood films more and more. However, we were still treated to some gems of characteristically French cinema:

One of the best trilogies ever filmed - Les Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993), Blanc (1994), Rouge (1994) - Three Colours: Blue, White and Red

One of the best known French films outside of France – Leon (1994).

La Fille sur le pont (1999, Girl on the Bridge), winner of BAFTA and Golden Globe for best foreign language film.

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